Thursday, September 29, 2011

Overreactions to Illness and Hysteria with Borderline Personality

Borderline Personality Disordered (BPD) individuals may display dramatic or hysterical behavior as well as overreact to illness and accidents. These behaviors leave family members "sucked in and emotionally depleted" (Lawson, p 15).  Although all BPD's are prone to hysterical reactions when stressed, the Hermit BPD feels particularly threatened by illness. She is intolerant of discomfort, inconvenience, and pain. She may moan and groan, scream and cry primarily out of fear, not pain. When frightened, she becomes hostile. Her exaggerated responses confuse those who care for her. Family members may be unable to distinguish minor injuries from major emergencies (Lawson, p 93). Additionally, the BPD Waif may suffer from chronic or recurrent illnesses with frequent medical visits (Lawson, p 64).

Each of these statements above depicts very clearly my BPD mother and her ever expanding list of illnesses and ailments and her dramatic and hysterical reactions to them. To be fair, she has been diagnosed with an auto-immune disease in 1995. However, besides my mother, I know many people with her type of autoimmune disease, and my mother is the only one who is as crippled mentally and physically as she. She has claimed to be effected by a host of diseases, conditions, and illnesses in addition to the autoimmune disease; however, most of them have never come to fruition. She scours the Internet and the PDR (Physician's Desk Reference) in order to self-diagnose herself. Then she dreams up these horrible possibilities which she then communicates to family and friends. As Lawson mentioned, family members have a challenging time distinguishing between fabricated, minor, and major health claims.

Recently the reports have gotten more and more dramatic per emails that my brother has forwarded to me from my mother. Just this year, she has claimed to be losing her kidneys and may need a kidney transplant (even went so far as to ask my brother if he would donate one of his), claimed to have polymyositis (widespread inflammation, loss of, and weakness of the muscles which she stated would ultimately effect her heart and be terminal), and claimed to have heart disease. Each of these claims did not get diagnosed after tests by her doctors. She has always been the victim-- whether she's the victim of something one of her friends did to her or something that one of her family did to her (ie: me, her sister, my brother, her father) or with these medical issues.

In regard to her health, she always had a weak fortitude since as far back as I can remember. She has always been tired and rarely physically active. She smoked a lot, never exercised, and was always sedentary. But above all-- she was always fatigued. Additionally, she has displayed the inability to handle discomfort, inconvenience, or pain. She would tell me stories of the dentist, gynecologist, and other medical visits from her childhood to present that were uncomfortable, inconvenient, or painful. And now, through experiences of my own with the same procedures, I have not felt the same. In fact, each of the experiences has been built up with anxiety due to what she had said, and then to my surprise, the experience was pleasant and comfortable.

In regard to her health, she had strange ailments pop up through the years such as 2nd degree burns at the beach in 1976 and toe nails falling off in the 1980's. Then starting at the end of the 1980's, she started to gain weight and hurt when moving. By the early 1990's she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia.  By 1995, she had surgery (hysterectomy). 

While she was in the hospital, she had fits of extreme hysteria. Her behavior was completely erratic, wild, and, well, crazy. She would say one thing, scream another, cry & plead, and was out of control. "Borderlines are prone to hysterical reactions. She is intolerant of discomfort, inconvenience, and pain. She may moan and groan, scream and cry primarily out of fear, not pain. When frightened, she becomes hostile. Her exaggerated responses confuse those who care for her" p 93 Lawson. I definitely didn't know what to do. I was confused and looked to my step-father for guidance. He seemed as bewildered as I was.

When she first came out of surgery, she asked for and looked to her friend for comfort. She rejected my affection, including holding my hand, having me caress her, and merely sitting next to her. I was ignored and eye-contact was avoided. I was puzzled as to what I had done to deserve this treatment. And then when it came to the evening, although I was supposed to stay the night in the room, she asked her friend to stay. I gathered my things and began to leave with my step-father. That's when the hysteria peaked. 

She went completely hysterical with yelling, screaming, and crying. I truly didn't know what to do as she was irrational and seemingly psychotic. My step-father had her friend and myself step out of the room so he could talk with her. We could hear her screaming, bawling, and freaking-out at him. Her behavior was bizarre. When he emerged from the room, he advised me to leave with him and for my mother's friend to stay.  I was still completely baffled as to why she was pushing me away but upset that I was leaving. My step-father was equally confused as we spoke about it on our way out to our cars. "Overreaction to pain or illness is a consequence of the inability to sooth or comfort herself. When she feels vulnerable, she is incapable of containing anxiety" p 93 Lawson.

I had observed this type of behavior when I was a child. When she had sun-burn at  the beach, I found her crawling on the floor, hysterical and yelling at my father (1976). When she went to the hospital when I was in high-school (1983), she was irrational and confusing: requesting one thing then scolding you for doing that, insisting she meant something else. The worst was the incident in 1995 mentioned above, but her behavior in 1999 was equally as scarring to me (mentioned below). Her hysteria was not limited to illnesses / ailments. A few examples are when she went hysterical when my Dad went on business trips (throughout the 1970's), went ballistic in the house (tearing it apart with my Dad ultimately restraining her on the living room floor- mid-70's), and threw herself down (hysterically crying) on the door-step of a family's home that I was babysitting (my Dad was awarded custody at the time- early 80's).

Now back to the mid-90's: I was very frustrated with my mother during the years of finding a diagnosis, as well as after the autoimmune disease diagnosis (1995). She wasn't doing anything to help her cause. Equally dysfunctional is the BPD completely neglecting her health as my mother did during these years (Lawson, p 64). My mother remained sedentary. She ate terribly. Although she had claimed to have stopped smoking, she was sneaking cigarettes whenever she could. She was very negative and not finding the positive in life. I would try to motivate her to exercise-- walk, stretch, get out-- but my ideas were always greeted with excuses. During this time, she would actually avoid going to the doctor and dentist. She was skipping follow-up treatments and taking herself off of her medications. She completely neglected her health.

She wielded the guilt-trip weapon during this time too. I was offered a position at a company across the country from where we both resided. She was dramatic, firm, and clear when she stated, "You wouldn't think of moving away when your mother is this sick... would you?" I ended up not taking the job. Ironically, we ended up estranged shortly after that due to  a package I recieved in the mail from my Dad that she went bonkers over: Here We Go Again 

By May of 1999, my brother and I decided to break the silence between our mother and us. We called her on Mother's Day. She carried on as if nothing ever happened. In July 1999, she ended up in the hospital for a pulmonary embolism. The condition was truly serious, and she wanted to see my brother. So I flew him down, got him from the airport, and had him stay with me. My mother wanted him to spend the night in the hospital with her, but he didn't feel comfortable with that. I don't blame him (it had been 9 years since they had seen each other and only a few months into the reconciliation). 

My mother, again, exhibited inappropriate and aggressive behavior while she was in the hospital. Keep in mind that this was the first time that my brother, mother, and me were all together in the same room in almost FIFTEEN years. My mother was acting like Mr. Hyde. I don't know what got into her, but there she was in the hospital bed, being very boisterous, pushy, and rotten. She became angered with my brother for not staying at her bedside day and night. She ranted that she didn't leave her mother's side when she was in the hospital- so she expected the same treatment. She was so angered with my brother that they ended up estranged again shortly after she was out of the hospital. Additionally, a topic that was never brought up in the past that she brought up out-of-the-blue was that I have a different father than my brother. She kept emphasizing that my brother "is ONLY" my half brother. Her behavior was not only dramatic but also inappropriate and out-of-place and with purpose. But what was that purpose? More about this period of time: In Through the Out Door

In regard to overreacting to illnesses: since her diagnosis of an autoimmune disease in 1995, my mother has claimed to have Rheumatoid Arthritis (inflammation of joints / tissues), Cushing's Disease (pituitary gland releases too much adrenocorticotropic hormone), Hashimoto's Disease (thyroid gland inflammation), Raynaud's Syndrome (vasospastic disorder causing discoloration of the fingers / toes), Sjogren's Syndrome (immune cells attack and destroy the exocrine glands that produce tears / saliva), chronic heart failure, polymyositis (weakness and/or loss of muscle mass in the proximal musculature, particularly in the shoulder and pelvic girdle), bladder dysfunction (went through an extensive battery of tests), kidney failure, heart failure, and more. Again, I have to stress that she DOES have an autoimmune disease; however, these other claims are above and beyond the autoimmune disease diagnosis and haven't been diagnosed by her doctors although she claims to be suffering from each. 

"Sucked-in and emotionally depleted" is how Lawson described the family of a BPD who overreacts and is dramatic with illness and accidents. Indeed, caring for a BPD mother who is ill yet lashes out and is purposefully hurtful and rejecting is challenging: on one hand, you feel sympathy and empathy, and then on the other hand, you feel the need to protect yourself from the abuse. The irrational behavior is incomprehensible, and the bizarre and hysterical behavior is frightening. All the way around, being a child of a BPD mother who exhibits these behaviors is terribly confusing, perplexing, and disorienting.


  1. Thank you for writing this article. I truly felt like you were talking about my own BPD mother in regards to illness and hysterical reactions. Of course, my mother reveled in the attention she received from her many 'ailments.' I find it interesting that your mother was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, as my mother is also (she is diagnosed with rhuematoid arthritis and psoriasis). Although I know there is nothing that can be done to prevent an auto immune disorder, I can't help but wonder why so many BPD individuals are diagnosed with them. A friend's BPD sister was recently diagnosed with an auto immune disorder as well. Now, this could be pure coincidence, but I was wondering if you had any thoughts on this topic or knew of any related research.

    Again, thank you for this article, and this website. You've helped more than you could ever imagine.

  2. I will totally do the topic of autoimmune diseases versus BPD (mental illness) as a topic in an upcoming blog entry. Stress has been shown to cause autoimmune diseases to manifest, flare, and develop. I believe that a correlation between mental illness and autoimmune disease exists.

    You are so welcome ... thank YOU for reading and taking the time to comment :)

  3. I think that the hermit's fears trigger these illnesses...have you seen the video : the secret - law of attraction? they've talked about how thoughts are powerful enough to bring about what we fear the most.

  4. Thank you for writing this incredible blog. I've only just begun to read it and yet I see so much my family in your story. I've taken a similar path in that I've chosen to learn as much as I can and document as much as possible. I have tried to include and encourage my siblings to do the same, but for their own reasons they do not want to. I look forward to reading more of your blog. Thanks again.

  5. This is an amazing blog. I haven't spoken to my mother for nearly 8 months (after a particularly nasty attack during a phone conversation). This period of detachment has allowed for an objective assessment of her behaviour now and during my childhood. The Queen and The King is brilliantly written and referenced and tremendously helpful. Thank you so much.

  6. The feeling of emptiness is one criteria that allows a person to qualify for Borderline Personality Disorder, but quite frankly I can not figure out this criteria. Sounds way too diffuse. The Chinese do not have the emptiness criteria for the Impulsive Personality Disorder (IPD). Is emptiness a just a verbal equivalent aor representation for not belonging to the larger population healthy population that is able to process their sensatory input adequately? I have tried Cannabis (15 mg THC, indica strain) once and it was a quite a bit of sensory amplification, for me it was especially acutely aware of sounds. The laughing that followed was fun, but I was worried that my neighbors would get concerned that I was laughing by myself at the balcony, The THC high was odd. I could easily choose between not thinking at anything at all, or then switch to thinking upon command. But any thought I had, such as a car driving into the parking lot would excite uncontrollable laughter. Is the Borderline emptiness avoidance of thought, especially if inevitably resulting in negatively charged rumination? Answers or thoughts highly appreciated